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Africa Today 49.2 (2002) 155-156

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Du Toit, Pierre. 2001. South Africa's Brittle Peace: The Problem of Post-Settlement Violence. Houndmills, U.K.; and New York: Palgrave 222 pp.

Studies of South Africa's transition have proliferated in recent years, seeking explanations for the collapse of apartheid, for the actors and issues animating the miraculous political transformation, and for the challenges confronting the new order. None of these studies come close to Pierre du Toit's magisterial account of the problems of postsettlement violence. It is refreshing to find a study that anchors the South African transition in the rich conceptual literature on state-building, yet remains accessible to a wide audience. State-centered analyses of social change are associated with the works of Michael Mann, Joel Migdal, Charles Tilly, and Theda Skocpol, but du Toit's work does not merely rehash these authors: rather, he presents a complex argument, which locates the South African transition at the moment of state weakness occasioned by the decay of apartheid's institutional edifice of violence and legitimation.

In elaborating on the puzzle of a weak state, du Toit argues that the apartheid state was a study in contrasts: strong in its ability to unleash violence against the majority, but ultimately weak in its attempt to win compliance. Mounting external and internal pressures compounded this crisis, forcing negotiations on a previously reluctant white establishment. Du Toit shows that although the forces of change that converged around the agenda of negotiations were united by the sense of mutual vulnerability, the postapartheid dilemma remains simple, but profound: "whether the state has regained its monopoly on force, whether the capacity for the protection of all citizens has been built, and whether rival coercive forces have been dealt with" (p. 18). This thesis is the gist of the book.

The second chapter analyzes the legacy of apartheid violence drawing from the debates and findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Through the lenses of the TRC, du Toit illustrates the contests and divisions that persist about the role of violence. This background also allows him to discuss the security dilemma under apartheid, low intensity conflict, and the specter of postapartheid violence, themes that are central to the notion of a weak state. Analyses of the dynamics of negotiations in chapters 3 and 4 cover familiar descriptive ground, but they are written clearly with an eye to demonstrating the interplay between violent confrontation and negotiations.

Chapter 5 seeks answers to why the negotiations succeeded, concluding that there existed innovative leadership on both sides of the racial divide, united by mutual dependence that persisted in the face of a costly stalemate. Further, it builds on the thesis of why the outcome led to weak governance structures. Since the apartheid state had relied on military and security forces for survival, the triumph of civilian actors in the negotiation invariably alienated armed opponents of the regime. As civilians found solace in the arms of the ANC, they attained political capital and [End Page 155] legitimacy, but not enough to redress the imbalance that had historically been weighted toward the military and security forces. The latter then became the sources of state insecurity, witnessed in the arming of militias that threatened the reconstitution of civil order. The marginalization of extremist elements in both the majority and minority has not led to the abatement of militarization of society, witnessed in rising levels of crime and lawlessness.

Stemming the culture of violence is essential to strengthening the political gains of the 1990s, but it is fundamentally a problem of institutional development, which the author finds wanting. The negotiated institutions, notably the police forces, he contends, lack the resources and training to meet the escalation of violence. For instance, reviewing the record of the police forces, he notes that the "profound incapacity of the police force has resulted in them having to rely on the defense force on a more or less permanent basis, yet another indication of state weakness" (p. 119).

More critically, recapturing state legitimacy is a...


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